Southeast Tennessee is widely known for its whitewater rafting and kayaking, attracting people from all over the world to test their courage on our creeks and rivers.
The Ocoee River -- site of the whitewater competition at the 1996 Olympics -- gets much of the attention, but there are plenty of other options when you want to challenge the rapids.
What do those rapid classification numbers mean anyhow? Simply put, those numbers tell how dangerous or safe a section of whitewater is to boaters. Outdoor Chattanooga offers this guide for whitewater classification and how to choose the class that's appropriate to individual skill levels.
• Class I (Easy): Fast-moving current with small waves and few obstructions that are easily avoided. Low-risk. Easy self-rescue.
• Class II (Novice): Straightforward rapids with wide-open channels that are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering is required. Trained paddlers will easily avoid any rocks or medium-size waves. Swimmers are seldom injured.
• Class III (Intermediate): Rapids with moderate, irregular waves, strong eddies and currents. Complex maneuvers and good boat control are required. Major hazards are easily avoided. Scouting is recommended for inexperienced paddlers. Self-rescue is usually easy, and injuries to swimmers are rare.
• Class IV (Advanced): Powerful, turbulent and unpredictable rapids with large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages. Fast and reliable eddy turns and precise boat handling are needed to navigate safely through. Scouting is necessary, and rapids may require "must-make" moves above dangerous hazards. Strong Eskimo roll ability is highly recommended since there is a moderate to high risk of injury to swimmers. Self-rescue is difficult, so skilled group assistance is often needed.
• Class V (Expert): Extremely long, obstructed or violent rapids with exposure to substantial risk. Expect large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes. Eddies may be small, turbulent, difficult to reach or nonexistent. Reliable Eskimo roll ability, proper equipment, extensive experience, high level of fitness and practiced rescue skills are essential for survival. Scouting is highly recommended but may be difficult. Swims are very dangerous and rescues are difficult.
• Class VI (Extreme): These runs exemplify the boundaries of difficulty, unpredictability and danger and almost have never been attempted, if ever. The consequences of errors are very severe, and rescue may be impossible. Only expert teams with ideal conditions and extensive safety systems should ever consider these rapids.
Source: Outdoor Chattanooga
You can't discuss whitewater in Tennessee without discussing the Ocoee River in Polk County. The river is about an hour east of Chattanooga and offers fun and challenges for boaters of all skill levels.
• The Ocoee features primarily Class III-IV rapids that challenge experienced boaters but are accessible to most anyone on a raft with a good guide.
• The river is divided into two sections, the upper and middle Ocoee. Running both sections provides a full day's adventure, or a single section can be run in about three hours.
• There are numerous guide services available for rafting and kayaking trips. A list of guides can be found by contacting the Ocoee Whitewater Center or checking out the Outdoor Chattanooga website (www.outdoorchattanooga.com).
Sources: Outdoor Chattanooga; Ocoee Whitewater Center
The Ocoee isn't the only place to experience whitewater in the Chattanooga area. There are other places closer to town that offer various levels of rapids. Here are just a few of the areas worth checking out.
• Just 20 minutes from downtown, North Chickamauga Creek has rapids ranging from Class III to Class V and is a favorite for local and visiting kayakers.
• The Cartecay River at Ellijay, Ga., is a nice recreational river featuring Class II-III rapids on a short two-mile run, or a longer run is available. More information can be found at www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/3418.
• Toccoa River has several access points as it flows through the national forest and is usually navigable year-round. More information on the river can be found at www.americanwhitewater.org/rivers/id/509.
• The Hiwassee River is a fairly easy set of Class I-II rapids that can be run on an inner tube or small inflatable raft or kayak. It can be done unguided, and tubes, kayaks and rafts can be rented from ourfitters in Reliance, Tenn.
• Alabama usually isn't considered a whitewater destination, but if you know where to look there is good water there as well. Check out www.alabamawhitewater.com for a list of where the best rivers and creeks are throughout the state, including runs within a few hours from Chattanooga.
• A slightly longer drive from Chattanooga will get you to the Nantahala River in western North Carolina. This dam-controlled river offers intermediate to expert rafting and kayaking on Class II and Class III rapids. Several outfitters, including some companies that also work on the Ocoee River, offer guided trips down the river.
• The Georgia-South Carolina state line is the Chattooga River, made famous by the 1972 movie "Deliverance," which was filmed there. Some sections of the river are slow flatwater with some Class II rapids, but there are sections with several Class III, Class IV and even Class V rapids. Among the best-known are Bull Sluice (Class IV, Section III) and Five Falls (Class IV-V, Section IV).
Sources: Outdoor Chattanooga, www.americanwhitewater.org, www.alabamawhitewater.org
After you've made a guided rafting run or two, learning how to kayak is the next step in whitewater excitement. Several clubs offer instruction on how to get started and make the learning process safe and fun.
• The Rapid Learning Whitewater Club offers a kayak roll class each Wednesday in Chattanooga. The first lesson is free, and the cost is $5 per session after that. Roll practice helps new boaters get comfortable getting into and out of a kayak and teaches how to right an upturned boat. For more information, email Terri Chapin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The Tennessee Valley Canoe Club conducts training trips for kayakers, getting them on area rivers with experienced boaters to learn how safely to negotiate rivers of various difficulty. TVCC's Paddle School is one of the more popular ways for new boaters to get on the river and into the whitewater. To learn more about the club and Paddle School, see www.tvccpaddler.com.
Sources: Outdoor Chattanooga, U.S. Forest Service, Tennessee Valley Canoe Club
For more tips that will help you find the best things to do in the Chattanooga region, pick up a copy of Glimpse, a travel guide that will be inserted into your newspaper on Friday. Glimpse covers the hottest activities and best-kept secrets in nearly 100 cities across Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina and will be accessible online from TimesFreePress.com.